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House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreed.

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Division No. 534Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Jonquière was not in the Chamber.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it most unacceptable that it has been decided today to make use of a technicality to prevent members from voting.

The members who were in committee—

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

An hon. member

The opposition has been gagged.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

The decision was made to do away with the usual half hour which members need to get back to the House on this occasion—

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

An hon. member

Shame on the Liberals.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

—and I think that the argument of the hon. member for Jonquière in this connection is very valid.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

What happened is undemocratic.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry. I would like to respond in French but it is better that I respond in English for greater certainty.

I have checked with the clerk. The clerk advises me that the bells are up to 30 minutes, but anytime that the chief government whip and the opposition whip advance to the Chair that cuts it off. The request to adjourn debate was in order. The whips' calling the vote was in order. Everything that has been done has been done in order.

We are in Private Members' Business.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Several of my colleagues were working in various committees that were sitting and, if committees are an extension of the House of Commons and parliament, these members should be given enough time to come back to the House to vote since they cannot do it when they are at committee meetings. I think there is unanimous consent of the House—

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The rules of the House were fairly applied to take the vote. The rules of the House were finely applied to have the vote. There will be other opportunities. At this time there are a couple of minutes left in Private Members' Business, so let us please return to Private Members' Business.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have to say that the government whip and the whip of the official opposition failed to show the most basic courtesy by not allowing our colleagues to come back from the committee meeting or from their office outside of this building to take part in this important vote.

In the spirit of courtesy, I ask the unanimous consent of the House to allow all our colleagues who were not here at the time of the vote, who are here now and who want to have their vote recorded, to be recorded as having voted on the motion.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The Chair certainly understands what is going on here this morning. I had said earlier that it is Private Members' Business. I will put the unanimous consent request. But during the course of events, once we have accomplished what was intended to be accomplished particularly in Private Members' Business, it is appropriate to get back to Private Members' Business. I will put the unanimous consent request to the House.

The whip of the Bloc Quebecois has requested the unanimous consent of the House to have the names of all members of the Bloc who were not in the House applied to the vote. Is there unanimous consent?

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

No.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

There will be no further points of order on this question. There are two minutes left on debate on Private Members' Business.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order of simple protocol. I have been standing for approximately 20 minutes and for whatever reason your eyes seem to focus on one side of the House. Should I have been here when the time—

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry but the time for Private Members' Business has expired. Orders of the day.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to belabour the point, but I think you misunderstood my request for unanimous consent.

I did not ask for unanimous consent to allow that all members of the Bloc Quebecois be recorded as having voted on that motion, but only those who are here now and who were not able to vote on the motion.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I thank you very much and I stand corrected. The whip of the Bloc Quebecois is quite correct. I did not put the question as it was indicated. I put the question that all members of the Bloc be recorded as being here. The question was that those members presently in the House be recorded.

I will put the question again. The hon. chief whip of the Bloc Quebecois has requested the unanimous consent of the House that all members of the Bloc present now in the House be recorded as having voted in favour of the motion.

Is there unanimous consent of the House to adopt the motion?

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 534Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Agreed and so ordered. We will need to record the people who were here. The clerk will record those members standing.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 1999 / 12:05 p.m.

Kenora—Rainy River Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault LiberalMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a final agreement, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-9, legislation giving effect to the Nisga'a final agreement.

We are nearing the end of a lengthy process, not only the legislative process in the House and the B.C. legislature, but the journey embarked on by the Nisga'a people more than 100 years ago. I am hopeful that when debate in the House concludes, members will see fit to pass Bill C-9 for its consideration in the other place.

I have followed the debate and the committee proceedings with great interest. I thank the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for the excellent work they have done.

It is interesting to note that throughout the debate a number of common themes have emerged from those in favour of the Nisga'a final agreement as well as from those opposed. The agreement meets the tests that have been set out. It will provide certainty. It will remove the restrictions of the Indian Act so the Nisga'a people will have greater opportunities to prosper in the future. It will protect the rights of Nisga'a women. It will ensure that the rights of non-Nisga'a people living within Nisga'a lands have been addressed. It will respect and maintain Canada's existing legal and constitutional framework.

The Nisga'a final agreement achieves all of these goals and many, many more. It will provide certainty. By clearly setting out all of the Nisga'a aboriginal rights, the agreement gives the Nisga'a and their neighbours a chance to build a future together knowing that issues of the past have been dealt with in an honourable manner.

The Nisga'a final agreement will settle the ownership of land, not just the land included in the treaty, but the huge expansive territory over which the Nisga'a had originally laid claim. This means certainty for investors which in turn means increased economic activity and employment in British Columbia. Roslyn Kunin, chief economist for the Laurier Institute testified before the standing committee that current uncertainty is costing British Columbians a minimum of $1 billion worth of investment. One billion dollars is the minimum annual cost of not moving ahead.

Let me quote David McLean, chairman of the board of Canadian National, when he addressed the committee. He said: “What appeals to me as a business leader is the certainty it creates”. Of course for the final word on certainty, let me quote the agreement itself: “This agreement constitutes a full and final settlement in respect of the aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada of the Nisga'a nation”.

Throughout this debate there has been a great deal of criticism of the Indian Act. Numerous provisions of the Indian Act are not conducive to building successful communities in a modern context. This is especially true as it pertains to land management and economic development.

The Nisga'a final agreement offers a new approach. For all time it will remove the Nisga'a people out from under the Indian Act. With fee simple ownership of land, the Nisga'a will be able to more fully develop their economy.

The achievement of self-government means the Nisga'a will no longer have to seek permission of the federal government to conduct their day to day affairs. The Nisga'a people have chosen to take this step forward. They have agreed to a model of government that provides them with greater authority and with it greater responsibility.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I call for a quorum count.

And the count having been taken:

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has requested a quorum call. We have a quorum.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON

They have chosen a path that makes them answerable to themselves and to future generations for the choices they make.

In short, the Nisga'a people have achieved what most of us take for granted. To reject this agreement would take this achievement away. It would force the Nisga'a to remain under the Indian Act, an act which rather ironically has been most persistently denounced by those speaking against this legislation.

Ending the application of the Indian Act to the Nisga'a also represents a significant gain for Nisga'a women. As I have stated in the House, the Indian Act is silent on the rights of women. Its last major revision was in 1951, long before either the bill of rights or the charter of rights and freedoms.

Ending the Indian reserve system and the Indian Act for the Nisga'a will put Nisga'a women on an equal footing with other women in British Columbia with respect to the division of matrimonial property in cases of marital breakdown. The reason for this is that all provincial laws, including the B.C. Family Relations Act, will apply to Nisga'a lands, something that is not currently case for Indian reserve lands.

Once again I will quote the agreement: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the Nisga'a government in respect of all matters within its authority”. Nisga'a women will enjoy the full equality guaranteed by sections 15, 28 and 35 of the charter.

In addition, there are important protections for women in our constitution. Section 35(4) of the Constitution Act, 1982 makes it clear that treaty rights are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. Bill C-9 states in its preamble “The constitution is the supreme law of Canada”. This treaty will operate within the existing Canadian constitutional framework, something which all three parties agree to.

It is clear that not only does the Nisga'a final agreement protect the rights of women, it offers a significant improvement over the status quo.

The relationship between the Nisga'a and their neighbours has probably been the subject of more myths and misinformation than any other aspect of the agreement. Throughout the negotiations leading up to the Nisga'a final agreement great efforts were made to accommodate the needs of neighbouring communities and non-Nisga'a individuals who reside on Nisga'a lands. Almost every chapter in the agreement reflects input that was received in nearly 500 consultation and information sessions.

The agreement does not, as some would have us believe, provide the Nisga'a government with any taxation authority over non-Nisga'a residents. The only taxation authority for the Nisga'a government is found in chapter 16, section 1 of the final agreement, and it only extends to Nisga'a citizens living on Nisga'a lands.

Nisga'a lawmaking authority is limited to matters internal to the Nisga'a people, such as their language and their culture. All Nisga'a laws will be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Nisga'a government will be obliged to consult with non-Nisga'a residents on any proposed measure that substantially affects those individuals who will also, and this is one to remember, have full access to the court system for redress.

Where institutions are established that affect all residents of the Nass Valley, such as school boards or health boards, non-Nisga'a residents will be able to seek election and vote for the candidate of their choice.

Who better to speak to this issue than the people directly involved? Here is what Bill Young, a businessman, Nass Valley Residents' Association member and the largest non-Nisga'a landowner in the Nass Valley had to say about the Nisga'a final agreement when he testified before the standing committee:

Any fears that we have had are alleviated and clearly defined in the treaty documents.

Nisga'a self-government will not have any jurisdiction over land currently owned by non-Nisga'a within the Nass Valley.

I believe that the Nisga'a treaty is a fair and honourable solution that will protect and be fair to all parties.

I ask the honourable members of parliament to ratify this treaty.

Terrace is the city lying closest to the Nisga'a. Here is what the mayor, Jack Talstra, had to say to the committee:

We wish the treaty signed sooner, rather than later, so we might focus our energy and creativity on implementation, rather than past discussion and previous arguments.

Let us move forward with this new treaty.

As hon. members can see, this government is listening to the people most directly affected by the Nisga'a final agreement. Those people are comfortable with the agreement. They have received the assurances and protection they sought. They recognize the benefits that everyone will derive from the treaty. They want us to get on with the job.

Finally, I would like to touch on the relationship between the Nisga'a final agreement and the Canadian legal and constitutional framework. There are those who continue to state that the agreement changes the constitution. As I have before, I would refer them to the agreement itself, which states quite clearly “This agreement does not alter the constitution of Canada”.

The committee held a great deal of testimony from constitutional and legal scholars and experts. There was a general consensus that the agreement does not change the constitution, and the self-government provisions of the agreement serve to define an already existing constitutional right.

As Professor Patrick Monahan of Osgoode Hall Law School stated:

We are not creating a third order of government because on this argument the courts have implicitly already recognized that aboriginal peoples and rights of self-government of aboriginal peoples have constitutional status.

Clarifying the Nisga'a right to self-government sends a positive signal. It demonstrates that this government is serious about the relationship we are trying to build with aboriginal people and it shows what we can accomplish within the existing framework.

I have just quoted the agreement to the extent that it does not alter the constitution. It is also quite clear that the treaty will be subject to the constitution and the charter of rights and freedoms.

Despite the often unfortunate history of our relationship with the Nisga'a people, I have heard Nisga'a tribal council president Joe Gosnell speak about his pride in Canada and in being a Canadian. The Nisga'a people never wanted an agreement that would make them less Canadian. By framing the final agreement within the Canadian constitution they have demonstrated in a tangible way their desire to remain an active part of the Canadian family.

Not only is the agreement clear on the application of the constitution and the charter, it is clear on the application of federal and provincial laws. The self-government provisions of the agreement do not provide the Nisga'a government with any exclusive lawmaking jurisdiction. The Nisga'a government's authorities are clearly defined and the Nisga'a government will only have authority over the matter specifically outlined in the agreement.

The Nisga'a government will have the principal authority to make laws, and I quote the agreement again, “in respect of Nisga'a government, Nisga'a citizenship, Nisga'a culture, Nisga'a language, Nisga'a lands and Nisga'a assets”.

When I appeared before the standing committee I challenged members opposed to the agreement to demonstrate why the Nisga'a should not have primary authority over their language and culture. So far I have heard no response to that challenge. I also challenged those members to demonstrate why the Nisga'a should not have authority over land use planning that is consistent with the authority enjoyed by neighbouring municipalities. Once again I have heard no response.

In some other areas the Nisga'a may adopt their own laws, but those laws will only take precedence if they meet or exceed standards in federal or provincial law. For example, if the Nisga'a decide that they want to include the teaching of Nisga'a language or culture in their schools they may do so. Teacher certification and curriculum standards must meet or exceed provincial standards. This only makes sense.

In the great majority of lawmaking areas either federal and provincial laws will prevail or the Nisga'a will have no authority to make laws. The interests of the Nisga'a and all other Canadians are met with these arrangements. The Nisga'a did not ask for unreasonable authorities and we would not have agreed if they had.

As we enter a new millennium it is imperative for Canada to renew and define its relationship with aboriginal people. Every day we can see the results of the status quo. How we define that relationship will vary from community to community and from province to province. First nations have different circumstances, different needs, and different desires. The arrangements we make with them have to reflect that.

Let me be clear, this government's policy is that the relationship will be developed. We have a fundamental difference of opinion with those, like members of the Reform Party, who do not see the need to develop that relationship; those whose view of equality is to offer people individual cash payments if they agree to give up their constitutional rights; those who deny the balance between individual and collective rights that has made Canada such a unique and successful country; those who see society as a competition where the strongest thrive and the weakest are left to fend for themselves; and those who would perpetuate the mistakes of the past by imposing their belief system on cultures that thrived for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. That approach would never lead to the new relationship to which this government is committed. The Nisga'a final agreement proves that we can develop that relationship. It proves that first nations, provincial governments and the Government of Canada can reach honourable arrangements that satisfy the needs of all parties.

It is a promising first step. The adoption of the Nisga'a final agreement will send a clear signal that we as a society are ready to build new relationships based on mutual trust, respect and understanding. The adoption of Bill C-9 and the Nisga'a final agreement will bring one journey to an end, but it will also mark the beginning of another journey, one in which Canada and the Nisga'a enter the millennium together, united as we have never been before in our efforts to build a better society for future generations.

It has been an honour to have the opportunity to speak to a treaty that will go down in history as defining a new relationship with aboriginal peoples based on trust. I think that speaks much to Canada's viability in the future.